The Border Kingdoms06/21/2006


Burntbridges



Burntbridges

Burntbridges is a series of seven fords across the River Scelptar linking five almost-submerged islets to each other in a bending, doubling-back route across the fast-flowing river. The fords are named for the bridges that once carried traffic dryshod over the Scelptar at this spot -- and their fate.

Decades ago, a sequence of islet-hopping bridges called "The Sevenspans" carried The Scelptar Road across the River Scelptar, linking the town of Blackbarn (to the east and south) with lands north and west across the river. Most of the wagon trade crossing the bridges was between Blackbarn and the land of Suldamma to the west and south. The bridges were of wood and massive enough to withstand more than fourscore years of wind and weather before the summer of 1317 DR, when they were destroyed by fire in a fierce spell-battle.

There's now much argument about who was fighting whom, but most tales agree that one armed force of knights with a sorcerer was trying to stop another warband of knights (who'd hired three lesser wizards to ride with them) from crossing the river. The struggle cost the lives of all but a few -- the survivors fled, spreading wild tales of fire raging across the river and armored men screaming as they were transformed into strange, ever-shifting beasts that foundered, drowned, and were carried away by the Scelptar as they struggled to learn how to control their new, unfamiliar shapes.

The fords are passable only when the water is low at high summer (at the end of Flamerule and the hot early days of Eleasias) or in harshest winter, when river ice is thick. Otherwise, barges must be built and used unless travelers are strong swimmers and can mount multiple ropes from bank to bank or islet to islet. The rotting wrecks of dozens of riven barges litter the islets, and anything useful was salvaged from them long ago.

Although this would seem a logical place to found a ferry, attempts to do so have been ill-fated. One group of ferrymen were revealed to have been "replaced" by tsochari (see the Lords of Madness sourcebook). They were scattered in furious battle by three adventuring bands. Most of the tsochari were slain, but a few escaped, fleeing into the Borders in all directions. A later band of ferrymen dwindled one by one, falling victim to mimics that crept onto their barges and hid as part of the barges or cargo until tired ferrymen slept on the barges. A third group was eaten away to toppling, blood-drenched bones with frightening speed by a fell magic unleashed by a passenger they'd displeased (unleashed from a casket, most tales insist, not cast as a spell).

Many and fell are the tales told about Burntbridges, over tavern tables and by firesides late at night all across the Borders. Stories of hauntings, of strange undead or monstrous guardians standing on phantom bridges of moonlit nights, bringing death to all who seek to cross. Stories of whispering, formless, chilling-fingered things encountered while crossing the fords, that cling to the living for days or weeks afterward, weakening and draining them. Of treasures hidden under the islets, or in clefts in their streamweed-slick, submerged, rocky flanks (treasures never found by persistent searches, old Borderers will remind the tale-tellers). Of creatures that rise, dripping, from the Scelptar to drag down travelers crossing the fords by night. And of a "doorway of cold fire" that appears, on rare nights, on one of the islets, a portal through which strange beasts step -- or slither.

At least two efforts have been made to rebuild the burned bridges, and both have ended in death. One was a sudden, silent slaughter of forty men and oxen, all found slumped in the midst of their ropes and timbers, with no mark on them but the buzzing flies, as if they'd all just fallen dead at once in the midst of bridge-building. The other was an emptying of riverbank camps by night with fires still burning and tools, weapons, and wealth all dropped as if laid peacefully aside for slumber. The tents and wagons were simply empty of men.

Borderers tell and retell the tales, and no one tries to rebuild the Burntbridges now, though nothing at all ill seems to befall travelers who bring their own spars, build rafts, lash their wagons to them, and struggle across the Scelptar. Outlanders who seek treasures or the legendary portal depart empty-handed, and nothing seems to tarry around the islets -- not even the birds (squawkwings, drey, and dundippers) that nest in profusion up and down the Scelptar-banks above and below the old bridge sites.

About the Author

Ed Greenwood is the man who unleashed the Forgotten Realms on an unsuspecting world. He works in libraries, writes fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, and even romance stories (sometimes all in the same novel), but he is still happiest churning out Realmslore, Realmslore, and more Realmslore. There are still a few rooms in his house with space left to pile up papers in . . .

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